No one has been pegging Lone Survivor, Peter Berg's take on the story of Navy SEAL Mark Luttrell who received hero's honors for his service in Afghanistan, as a serious Oscar film. But at a screening in Hollywood last night, Universal made the case that it should be on people's awards radar.
Lone Survivor got attention back in June when the studio moved its date from early 2014 to late December, making it eligible for this year's awards. At the screening held at the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences, stars Mark Wahlberg and Taylor Kitsch joined Luttrell himself in a post-screening panel moderated by Tina Brown which has put the film into the awards conversation. (Yes, Kitsch and Berg's last collaboration was on Battleship. Probably best for everyone to just ignore that fact.)
Lone Survivor tells the story of Luttrell when he was a member of SEAL Team 10 on a mission in Afghanistan. When they run across sheep herders they need to make the decision whether to kill them or let them go, knowing that if they do they might notify Taliban forces. They let the Afghans go, and the ending isn't happy. It's right there in the title. Wahlberg, who plays Luttrell, said, "I never felt more pressure playing someone, but I never felt more pride either," according to Borys Kit of The Hollywood Reporter.
Tim Gray at Variety listed the movie's potential draw for awards. "It’s a contender in multiple categories," Gray wrote. "The studio’s timing is right; the pic arrives with little advance fanfare, which maximizes its impact. And while it will play best on the bigscreen, the film should work well on screeners, which is a big advantage." Gray then pointed out potential pitfalls like the depressing subject matter and the fact that it follows films like The Hurt Locker and Zero Dark Thirty. Kristopher Tapley at HitFix held more reservations about its awards potential. "While it hits some emotional beats at the end that could go a long way for some voters, Lone Survivor is not the sort of film to normally register with AMPAS," he wrote. "It's a sterling monument to modern warfare, perhaps the most definitive big screen account of the war in Afghanistan to date (not that there is a huge crop to pull from), but it may have been a mistake to toss it into the race, where the bar of expectation is sometimes too high and the fight for attention at the box office can be even worse." Tapley did say the film is a "technical marvel in many ways, particularly aurally." And of course, Tapley goes on to mention that the film itself and its subject matter is far more important than anything the silly awards race might do for it.